Incredible: treasures wherever you head in Italy, no matter how tiny, how “insignificant” the locale. This country is a treasure box, but I haven’t even lifted the lid.
Take Trequanda (pop. 1383). We’ve been there a couple times (Pino’s doing restoration in the area). It’s always quiet in the only village cafe’. This time, a client was snoring at his table in winter hibernation.
But the church across the piazza was open this time! Built in the mid-14th century – on site of a pre-existing church (in its turn, likely on the site of a sacred Roman temple site), the scacchiera (checkerboard) facade of travertine and volcanic tufo rock astounds for its intricacies.
Although dark inside, I could see the golden glow of a triptych over the altar. Drawing closer, clearly a Sienese school masterpiece. A woman near the altar proved to be a volunteer custodian who did far more than illuminate the church for me: Daniela shared rich lore about the church’s artistic treasures, even the “hidden ones.”
She described the townspeople’s joy when the splendid tryptych returned home: stolen in 1979, the early 15th century masterpiece by Giovanni di Paolo depicting the Madonna Enthroned with Saints, was found in Rome by the “Nucleo Tutela Patrimonio Artistico”, a branch of the Carabinieri, specialized in tracking down stolen art and archaeological treasures.
And that wasn’t the church’s only stolen object: “Look at the Cleveland cross”, Daniela exclaimed, pointing at a stunning 14th century enameled cross in a plexiglass case. The village priest always carried that cross in funeral processions to the local cemetery. In the mid-19th century, it was sent off to be restored – and disappeared. About thirty years ago, the Trequanda crucifix re-appeared in the Cleveland Museum of Art. After lengthy diplomatic maneuverings, the cross returned home.
We went behind the altar into the sacristy to see precious reliquaries – and curiosities, including the body of Blessed Bonizella (13th c) and the precious robe she was wearing when her body was found miraculously. Daniela told me the story: on May 6, 1554, two city magistrates noted a swarm of bees buzzing out of a crevice in the church wall. Eager to find a mother lode of honey and beeswax, they removed the stone. To their astonishment, they found not honey but the incorrupt body of Bonizella and her child, the perfume of incense surrounding them. Bonizella was holding a chalice, made of beeswax. Every year bees swarm at the spot on May 6th.
Daniela showed me photos of the miraculous survivor of a motorcycle accident. When? May 6th, a few years ago. As the injured young man – from northern Italy – was being loaded into the ambulance, he murmured, “I see a woman in a white dress.” The astonished rescue workers told him, “Beata Bonizella saved you. Today’s her feast.”
Each year, he returns to Trequanda on May 6th to join the locals in celebrating their Bonizella.